There is nothing like a good series, but sometimes binging on American TV shows with their long seasons and monotonously attractive cast can be a bit much. As an antidote, look over the pond to the UK and some of the excellent programmes produced by the national broadcast agency the BBC. These are generally short series that focus on telling compelling stories about real people, not just the bold and the beautiful. It is also a great chance to see some of your favourite British actors in their natural habitat, before they made it big in the US.
IMDB Score 8.3/10
Created and written by Jed Mercurio for the BBC this is a six-part crime drama with an amazing ensemble cast led by Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) and Keely Hawes (Ashes to Ashes). Madden plays Police Sergeant David Budd, an army war veteran with PTSD, now working in the specialist protection division of London’s Metropolitan Police. He is assigned to protect the Home Secretary, played by Hawes, whose politics are everything he despises.
Call the Midwife (2012)
IMDB Score 8.4/10
This BBC period drama follows a group of nurse midwives working in East London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It has an excellent ensemble cast including Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart and Helen George. It deals with events such as the baby boom, post WWII immigration and the founding of the UK’s national health service in 1948. The result is sentimental, poignant and often heart breaking.
Doctor Foster (2015)
IMDB Score 7.8/10
This five-part series written by Mike Bartlett focusses on Dr Gemma Foster, who suspects that her husband is having an affair. She takes it on herself to investigate, revealing both a paranoid and violent streak. But just because you are crazy doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Suranne Jones is highly watchable as the titular GP.
IMDB Score 8.3/10
From the minds of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who also star, comes this comedy series about the lives of background performers, otherwise known as extras. Things take a turn when Gervais’ character actually lands a role in a B-level sitcom. The cameo from Patrick Stewart at the end of the first season is priceless.
The Fall (2016)
IMDB Score 8.2/10
This British-Irish crim drama took the airwaves by storm when it first came out, propelling Gillian Anderson back into the spotlight and introducing us to the talent that is Jamie Dornan. Anderson plays a senior detective called into a case that has been open for 28 days, and now appears to be the work of a serial killer. The first two series received universal acclaim. Series three struggles a bit more, but you will be hooked by then!
Happy Valley (2016)
IMDB Score 8.5/10
Starring Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran, this crim drama is set in West Yorkshire in Northern England, but with the accents toned down for audience understanding. Lancashire plays a police sergeant dealing with the suicide of her young daughter following her rape, and trying to raise her young grandson that was a result of the crime. When the perpetrator is released from prison, she must decide what she will do.
IMDB Score 7.6/10
This Welsh programme initially made for Welsh channel S4C, broadcast in English on the BBC following its popularity. It follows detective Tom Mathias, played by Richard Harrington, who is solving murders while seeking his own redemption. A familiar premise, the different setting and cultural context adds something new that any fan or the genre will appreciate.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2015)
IMDB Score 8.2/10
Based on the best-selling Susanna Clarke novel, it explores an alternative history of the Napoleonic Wars where magic was used. Magicians Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell try to use their magic to help their country while not letting it unravel their lives. Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan make a great leading duo in what has been described as Harry Potter for adults.
Land Girls (2009)
IMDB Score 7/10
This programme follows Nancy, played by Summer Strallen, Joyce, played by Becci Gemmell, Bea, played by Jo Woodcock, and Annie, played by Christine Bottomley, who are all ‘land girls’ that have arrived at a rural estate during World War II to work. Over the series we uncover the pasts of the four girls, who all joined the Women’s Land Army for different reasons. While the show received many complaints about the inaccuracy of the uniforms used, it was also named best drama by the Royal Television Society Awards when it was first released.
London Spy (2015)
IMDB Score 7.5/10
We all knew that after his turn as Q in James Bon Ben Whishaw would be given his own spy vehicle show! This five part drama begins with the story of two young men, Danny (Whishaw) and Alex (Edward Holcroft) who are opposites that work. When Danny finds Alex dead, he discovers that he worked for the Secret Intelligence Service and must then enter the world of espionage to discover the truth about Alex’s death.
IMDB Score 7.5/10
This British take on Nordic noir detective shows stars Anna Friel as Marcella Backland, a former London detective who returns to work to reopen an 11 year old case about an unidentified serial killer who appears to have become active again. Watch the 16 episodes of the first two series before series three hits screens this year.
IMDB Score 7.9/10
While we probably thought that we didn’t need another take on Merlin, this is the show we never thought we wanted, but love. It has a new take on the story, and the young cast do an excellent job. Colin Morgan drives the show as Merlin, and Bradley James and Katie McGrath are excellent as Arthur and Morgana. Anthony Stewart Head (of Buffy fame) is also great as Uther Pendragon. This will quickly become a guilty pleasure.
Peaky Blinders (2017)
IMDB Score 8.8/10
Cillian Murphy is unmissable as Tommy Shelby, am Irish gang leader in post WWI Birmingham. Sam Neill plays a detective brought over from Northern Ireland to deal with the Irish gangs. Loosely based on a real gang known as the Peaky Blinders, this show has received critical acclaim for its writing and for Murphy. This show confounds all expectations and has reached cult classic status.
IMDB Score 8.5/10
This six part British TV drama stars the charismatic Stellan Skarsgard as Detective John River who is both a genius, but is also haunted by the murders he investigates He cannot rest until he has unravelled every detail of the case. He is sent into overload when he witnesses the death of his partner. A familiar premise, Skarsgard makes this highly watchable.
IMDB Score 9.2/10
The phenomenon that propelled Benedict Cumberbatch to fame and let us see Martin Freeman as someone other than Bilbo Baggins, this completely fresh take on the Sherlock Holmes story is clever, maybe sometimes too clever, and highly addictive. Set in 21st century London, despite knowing the story, you will still be kept guessing.